14 March 2009
The University of Iowa Art Library is in a building that is unoccupied due to damage by a river flooding last June. The art library collection was left in the Art Building and service provided to patrons by staff going to the building once or twice a day, retrieving the items requested. The sprinkler system had been disconnected for some time but it was decided to turn it back on.
Temperatures in this region often fall to well below zero F. during mid and late winter. The building is heated by pumping in hot air from generators outside the building through tubes and the building is not uniformly heated – there are hot and cold pockets throughout the building. Unfortunately one of the cold pockets is above the ceiling over an area of the Art Library.
The sprinkler system is made up of PVC pipes. Within a few seconds of turning on the water, pressure gauges showed there was a leak somewhere but they didn’t know where within the building. Art Library staff happened to be in the building and alerted facilities management immediately. Library staff reported that the break happened a couple hours before discovery of the location and later learned the water was turned off within 20 minutes of the incident. It was later discovered that when the sprinkler system was turned on, one of the sprinkler heads had a piece of ice in it and popped the sprinkler head off.
The lesson here is that when recommissioning a sprinkler system everything must be inspected and tested.
Tom Dixon from correspondence with University of Iowa Librarian, Nancy E. Kraft